With federal settlement, San Jose State promises to better protect students
San Jose State University is pictured in this file photo.

San Jose State University is promising major changes to how it handles claims of sexual misconduct and discrimination following a federal settlement of a decades-long sex abuse scandal in its athletics department.

The university will pay $1.6 million to female student-athletes sexually harassed by an athletic trainer named Scott Shaw, the U.S. Department of Justice announced this week. A federal investigation found that for more than a decade, SJSU failed to respond to complaints from female student-athletes about Shaw. The DOJ also found the university conducted an inadequate investigation in 2009 and that it retaliated against two employees who tried to alert school officials about concerns with Shaw. The former trainer resigned last year.

The feds and SJSU identified 23 individuals who Shaw inappropriately touched as recently as last year. Shaw had served as the university’s director of sports medicine since 2008 and the complaints centered around the women’s swim team.

“With this agreement, San Jose State University will provide relief to survivors and transform its Title IX process to ensure accountability in its athletics program and create a safer campus for all its students,” said Assistant Attorney General Kristen Clarke in a statement.

Title IX refers to a federal law that prohibits sex-based discrimination at schools that receive federal money. Many colleges maintain Title IX programs to investigate discrimination and sexual misconduct.

A stain on the university

Revelations about the abuse shocked faculty members at the university. Scott Myers-Lipton, an SJSU sociology professor and former student athlete, told San José Spotlight the violations stained the university’s reputation, and he wants answers from school leaders.

“Who knew what when? Who was involved, and who’s still working at this university who was involved in it?” Myers-Lipton said. “What are the safeguards we have to ensure that this doesn’t occur (again)?”

Nikos Mourtos, president of San Jose State University’s chapter of the California Faculty Association, said he’s disappointed it took the school so long to get to the bottom of the abuse happening in its athletics department.

“It’s mind-boggling that they would take such a risk with all of these complaints, knowing very well that sooner or later they would come to light,” Mourtos told San José Spotlight. “They violated several of their own policies in order to allow this to happen, so how serious are they about making changes? I don’t know—I’m personally not very hopeful.”

Per the settlement terms, SJSU restructured and expanded its Title IX office to include a gender equity officer who is responsible for overseeing compliance and implementation of policies, grievances and training. The university also gave a significant increase in funding to the office to recruit several more workers.

University officials said the school cooperated fully with the federal review in the athletics department. The DOJ’s findings are similar to recent findings from the university’s external investigation into allegations surrounding its former director of sports medicine, officials said in a statement.

SJSU also created a new policy that allows student-athletes to request an attendant to be present during any sort of treatment. School officials said in a statement they are also improving education and orientation programs on sexual assault prevention.

Marie Tuite, director of the athletics department who allegedly retaliated against two whistleblowers, resigned in August. An attorney who represents her did not respond to a request for comment.

University president Mary Papazian issued an apology letter in April when the university released the results of a second external investigation completed in 2019 that validated the students’ complaints against Shaw. The 2019 investigation overturned the results of a 2009 review that found no wrongdoing by Shaw.

“To the affected student-athletes and their families, I apologize for this breach of trust,” she wrote. “I am determined that we will learn from the past and never repeat it.”

Lawsuits piling up

While the university has settled with the federal government, it still must contend with private litigation connected to the scandal.

There are at least two lawsuits against university officials from current and former SJSU employees that claim they were fired or retaliated against in connection with the scandal.

Sage Hopkins, head coach for the women’s swimming and diving team, claims he regularly reported concerns about Shaw between 2009 and 2020. In his suit, he alleges his previous reports were removed from university records and not properly addressed. An attorney who represents Hopkins did not respond to a request for comment.

Stephen O’Brien, former deputy athletics director, alleges in his own suit that he was terminated in March 2020 after refusing to discipline Hopkins for whistleblowing. Tamarah Prevost, an attorney who represents O’Brien, told San José Spotlight that the federal report vindicates her client’s claims.

“We are thrilled with the DOJ’s report in general,” Prevost said. “And particularly thrilled that the DOJ is now enforcing Title IX compliance at San Jose State and will be supervising that compliance over the course of a few years.”

Contact Eli Wolfe at [email protected] or @EliWolfe4 on Twitter.

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